HARARE – The Warriors sealed their qualification for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Gabon after a convincing win over Malawi here yesterday.
Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat and Cuthbert Malajila were on target as Kalisto Pasuwa’s charges moved to 11 points at the top of Group L.
Swaziland, who beat Guinea 1-0 in Lobamba yesterday, are now on eight points and even if they win their last match to also go on 11 points; they cannot surpass Zimbabwe.
The Warriors have a healthy head-to-head comparison of 5-1 against Sihlangu.
JOB DONE: Warriors players celebrate Cuthbert Malajila’s goal against Malawi. Pic: Freedom Mashava
Zimbabwe’s last match in the group against Guinea in Conakry in September is virtually a dead-rubber.
Yesterday’s qualification means the Warriors have broken a 10-year jinx of failing to reach the finals.
The last time Zimbabwe participated at the tournament was way back in 2006 when Charles Mhlauri’s side was among the 16 teams at the finals held in Egypt.
Since then, the Warriors had suffered some heartbreaking near misses as they missed five Afcon finals in the process.
But Pasuwa finally ensured that the decade of hurt will be swiped away after leading the Warriors’ qualification campaign.
A FRIEND OF FOOTBALL: Warriors benefactor Wicknell Chivaya hugs striker Knowledge Musona before the match. Pic: Freedom Mashava
The former DeMbare gaffer becomes the third coach to take Zimbabwe to the Promised Land after Sunday Chidzambwa (2004) and Mhaluri (2006).
“I think we played well. We were having problems in the midfield where we were second to the ball most of the time,” Pasuwa said after the game.
“But the good thing is that we won the match and we have all three points in the bag. I have been saying it from the beginning that we need to win our matches. I am happy as a coach to qualify for Afcon.
“Any coach would want that. I think credit should go to the boys for the hard work.”
The Warriors had a good start applying the early pressure and they were duly rewarded when Musona was fouled inside the box and converted the penalty after only 16 minutes to ease the nerves on the fans.
The home side, however, went on to relax allowing Malawi to dictate the pace with Josephy Kamwendo controlling the tempo of the match.
Malawi almost equalised on 33 minutes but John Banda sent his effort from just outside the box wide following some good build-ups.
UNSTOPPABLE: Warriors forward Khama Billiat, left, beats Malawi defenders. Pic: Freedom Mashava
It was the Warriors, who went on to double their lead three minutes later when recently-crowned South African Footballer of the Year Billiat fired home a beauty from inside the box.
Full back Onismor Bhasera overlapped on the left side to meet a through ball from Musona before teeing up an unmarked Billiat.
The second half saw Zimbabwe again failing to impose themselves and allowing the Flames the chunk of the possession.
The home side struck again a minute from full time through substitute Malajila, who headed home a Musona cross.
Zimbabwe: Tatenda Mkuruva, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Onismor Bhasera, Costa Nhamoinesu, Elisha Muroiwa, Willard Katsande, Marvelous Nakamba (Matthew Rusike 75th min), Kudakwashe Mahachi (Danny Phiri 58th min), Khama Billiat, Knowledge Musona, Tendai Ndoro (Cuthbert Malajila 67th min)
Malawi: Charles Swini, Omukepo Msavoya, Harry Nyirenda, John Langezi, Stanley Smudi, Francis Mulimbika, Patev Wadabwa, Wonderful Jeremani (Micium Mhone 45th mins) (Mohammed Sulumba 74th min), Joseph Kamwendo, John Banda (Hellings Mhango 40th min), Rafick Namwera